By Melissa Spear
This weekend I hiked the Mattabasset Trail along Powder Ridge Mountain in Middlefield. From the summit I could see all the way to Long Island Sound. Connecticut’s forests stretched to the horizon wearing their fall colors. It was my first hike of the year in long pants – the cool air of autumn seems to have finally arrived.
It is a time of transition, and not just for the weather. I am also about to undergo a transition, as is Common Ground. I will be leaving Connecticut at the end of November to join my daughter in Seattle, Washington. I have imagined I would eventually return to my roots in the West ever since I moved to Connecticut 30 years ago, and now just seemed like the right time.
I have been with Common Ground for almost a decade now. I can honestly say it has been an amazing 10 years. I personally have learned so much from being here, and feel incredibly honored to have had the privilege of working with my colleagues in service to this organization. Common Ground is truly one of a kind, a gem, a bona fide community asset. A lot has changed since I joined Common Ground as its Executive Director. First and foremost we have grown. The student population increased from approximately 150 in 2009-2010 to 215 today. Staff increased from 27 to our current full time staff of 60. The budget grew from $2,700,000 in 2009-2010 to $5,500,000 in 2018-2019. Two important new programs also came to life during my tenure here – the SchoolYards program and the NatureYear program. In order to accommodate all of this growth our campus has been completely renewed with, most significantly, the addition of the award winning Springside building as well as the beautiful and functional Harvest Pavilion. We also completed the renovation of the original Hilltop building, the installation of significant passive stormwater management features (including an educational wetland), extensive native landscaping across the site, and the addition of wayfinding signage to help our visitors find what they are looking for.
Less tangible but just as important, Common Ground’s financial position has been significantly improved by diversifying our sources of revenue and implementing financial tracking systems to ensure we are living within our means.
We have also worked hard, and will continue to prioritize creating a workplace where diversity, equity and inclusion are honored and where staff feel valued and heard. This work has included everything from instituting systems to guide the way we recruit, hire and orient new employees to conducting all staff trainings on topics such as implicit bias and restorative justice, to strengthening internal communications around important organizational initiatives.
While there is always more to be done, I am proud of what has been accomplished in the time I have been here. Common Ground has grown in a sustainable fashion and I am confident it has a secure future. While I have contributed to Common Ground’s success, without your support, whether as a donor, a funder, a volunteer, a member of our staff, a program participant, a parent, a student or a partner organization – the successes of the past 10 years would have been impossible to achieve. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.
Now it is time for me to take what I have learned here and use it to benefit another worthy organization. I know I am leaving Common Ground in a strong position with an amazing staff and Board that will guide it through this transition over the next 6 months. Staff and Board will work together to find a wonderful new Executive Director to lead Common Ground on this next leg of its journey. I will be watching from across the continent and look forward to coming back many times in the years to come to visit my second home.
I will be at Common Ground until the end of November. If you are interested in knowing what I am up to next, visit www.tilthalliance.org. And feel free to visit me in Seattle any time. I will miss you all!